Overleaf for Book Authors

By Graham Douglas

In this post we take a look at how Overleaf can support the work of book authors—whether you want to use Overleaf for writing or producing books, it offers a wealth of features and functionality to help you become much more productive. If you are thinking of using Overleaf to produce/typeset a book, our companion post Overleaf for Book Production might also be of interest.

So, why Overleaf for books?

Overleaf is a cloud-based authoring and project-hosting service which enables you to create, write, edit and manage LaTeX documents using a web browser. Authors who use Overleaf’s browser-based LaTeX editing environment, and rich text mode, can fully leverage its infrastructure to create and manage projects, share files and collaborate on writing books in any subject area—LaTeX really is no longer the sole domain of authors in scientific and mathematical disciplines.

Overleaf uses a state-of-the-art TeX Live installation, ensuring that you have access to all the major TeX engines and the latest LaTeX packages—together with hundreds of fonts and a wealth of software tools/utilities. Overleaf fully supports XeTeX and LuaTeX (TeX engines)—which natively read text in Unicode (UTF-8) encoding and both engines can typeset books using modern OpenType font technologies. Authors can use LaTeX packages which provide access to XeTeX or LuaTeX’s advanced typographic features, enabling you to employ exquisite typesetting for the production of truly beautiful books

When setting out to produce a book you can use the Overleaf template gallery to browse book templates/examples and select one that suits your preferences—that is, of course, unless your template has been prescribed by your publisher—note that publishers too can add their own templates to the Overleaf gallery. By using a template it takes just a simple click (or tap) to create a brand new, fully configured, project based on the template of choice—all ready for you to begin writing.

Books: The road to publication—using Overleaf to get help along the way

Books are, of course, created over a much longer timespan compared to most journal papers—perhaps with the exception of lengthy review articles which can, sometimes, have book-length gestation periods. Over the course of writing the book you may need to collaborate with one or more colleagues—who might be in a different timezone—and, perhaps, you might want to share drafts or seek reviews or input from friends or advisors to clarify areas of uncertainty or double-check some figures or calculations. All of this is simple and easily achieved by sending your colleagues a link to your project on Overleaf—choose a read-only link or, if you prefer, send a read-and-edit link to those you wish to grant the right to edit your work. The following screenshot shows the various link types where <identifier> is unique to your project.

Link types for sharing your Overleaf project

Perhaps you have a colleague who wishes to contribute to your book (or make some edits) but they have an aversion to LaTeX? Not a problem: they can use Overleaf’s rich text mode which is a more user friendly method for editing your book’s content. A place to upload and store all your graphics is also very useful—something that Overleaf, of course, provides. Naturally, you can leverage sophisticated LaTeX-aware tools such as TikZ, MetaPost or Asymptote to generate your graphics or you can upload graphics files created using external programs.

You, or your co-authors, can continue working on your book whilst undertaking travel or spending periods away at another institution—Overleaf provides a single, shared, point of access which is available and accessible anywhere with an internet connection. By using Overleaf there is no longer the need to manage everything using various local TeX installations and transferring TeX files and graphics via e-mail or a file-sharing service. No more version control issues, either. You no longer need to worry about backups, upgrading your TeX installation to access new TeX capabilities or updated templates/packages and additional fonts—all of those chores are now history. Speaking of history, if you have signed-up to a Pro or Pro+ account you can access the (automatically logged) full history of your project—details are avalable online

Of course, not everything Overleaf provides can be free of charge—although we do provide a great deal of functionality within our free accounts. However, some services and features are only available through paid accounts—we have produced a convenient matrix of features vs account.

Running LaTeX (document compilation) is automated

From within Overleaf’s browser-based editor you can create files and sub-folders to help manage your book project and take advantage of standard LaTeX techniques for splitting larger works into smaller files (e.g., chapters) and later include those files into a “master” TeX file for producing the final publication. Overleaf’s compilation of LaTeX documents is driven using latexmk—a Perl program which aut­o­mates the pro­cess of compiling a LaTeX doc­u­ment into its typeset PDF. Whenever you need to create structures such as the table of contents, index, glossaries, lists of figures/tables, and references then latexmk will detect file changes and re-run the necessary programs for you, automatically.

If you need fine-grained control of Overleaf’s LaTeX compilation process you can edit your project to add, or modify if already present, a local configuration file called latexmkrc. This simple text file (actually it is Perl code) can direct latexmk to tailor the actions and behaviour of Overleaf to meet publisher- or project-specific requirements. You can find some examples of what you can do using latexmkrc in a blog post by TeXpert Lian Tze Lim.

Near-realtime WYSIWYG and great support too!

As you write and edit your book (or other document) Overleaf provides near-realtime rendering and display of the typeset results—in your browser, alongside your text. Alternatively, you can switch off the automatic compilation and choose manual refresh—especially useful when undertaking heavy editing or developing some LaTeX code. Even the most experienced LaTeX user can run into tricky LaTeX problems—but help is at hand. If you can’t find an answer online or obtain a solution through community initiatives, such as tex.stackexchange and the LaTeX Community forums, then you can contact Overleaf directly for free technical support—but do please remember to send us the link to your project on Overleaf!

Using the Git version control system

There may be times when you prefer to manage some elements of your book project via the Git version control system. You can certainly do that and sync your Overleaf project with one managed with Git: here’s how to do it.

Beautiful books: Use OpenType font technologies

Overleaf supports running LaTeX under three different TeX engines: pdfTeX, XeTeX and LuaTeX—you can, if you wish, manually select the TeX engine or let Overleaf automatically detect which one to use. The advantage of XeTeX and LuaTeX is that unlike pdfTeX they can utilize modern OpenType font technology which, through packages such as fontspec and Unicode-math, open up many more design possibilities and provide access to extremely sophisticated typographic features built into many OpenType fonts. We have produced a list of OpenType fonts available on Overleaf’s servers.

You are not restricted to using the fonts installed on Overleaf’s servers: assuming you have the right to do so, you can upload new fonts for use with your Overleaf project.

Font example: Junicode—a medievalist’s delight

As noted, the XeTeX and LuaTeX TeX engines support OpenType fonts and this greatly simplifies the use of non Latin-script-based typesetting. For example, medievalists and researchers studying Old English will delight in the wealth glyphs and font features provided by the open source Junicode font (which is installed on Overleaf’s servers). An extensive example showing XeTeX’s typesetting with Junicode is also available—a sample page is shown in the image below.

Example of typesetting with the Junicode font

Font example: STIX2—OpenType (Unicode) mathematics

The STIX2 fonts were released in December 2016 and provide excellent Unicode-based mathematical typesetting—the fonts were produced by world-renowned type designers at Tiro Typeworks. At the time of writing the STIX2 fonts are available in OpenType format only, which means they will work with the XeTeX and LuaTeX engines but not with traditional TeX engines that need Type 1 font files and TeX Font Metrics (TFM) files.

Here is an example of some mathematics typeset by XeLaTeX using the STIX2 fonts:

Some mathematics typeset with the STIX2 fonts

LaTeX source used in this example:

Graham Douglas

Graham Douglas

Content Development Editor

I've worked in scientific/technical publishing for over 20 years (Senior Publisher, book/journal production, and programming). Now relishing the opportunity to combine my interests in publishing and TeXnology. I work from home, ably assisted by our two delightfully inquisitive Bengal cats: Oscar and Alfie.